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The war that led to war

After the Maidan Revolution and the expulsion of pro-Russian President Yanukovych, Ukraine was fractured. On one side, the Ukrainian nationalists of the west of the country, who wanted, among other things, to make the Ukrainian language the only official language of the country, and on the other, the Russian-speaking populations in the east, suspicious and sometimes even hostile to the new government in Kyiv.

Many Ukrainians in the Donbass region, which includes the Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts (provinces), are opposed to the nationalists' seizure of power in Kyiv. They rightly consider that the expulsion of President Yanukovych is not constitutional and therefore illegal. The Kremlin sees the possibility of supporting the most radical pro-Russian elements to ensure that Donbass remains hostile to Kiyv.

It is therefore a real division within the Ukrainian people, a genuine mistrust between east and west, if we simplify a little, which has served as a breeding ground for the manipulations of power hungry politicians at the expense of ordinary people. This is the danger of any revolution. From the moment that power is seized outside the legal framework of the nation, all abuses become possible, it is the law of the strongest that now prevails. All bets are off.

I am no expert on this conflict, and I invite anyone who is better informed to correct any mistakes, but this is what I take away from my research and readings: a struggle against a corrupt and increasingly authoritarian pro-Russian government, which was trying to hijack a country by ignoring the widespread desire for a rapprochement with Europe, created a significant fissure in the population, which was then widened and aggravated by the radical forces on both sides.

The relationship between Donbass and the rest of the country quickly worsened, as pro-Russian militias backed by Russia began to take possession of the administrative buildings of regional governments. On May 2, 2014, Kyiv sent the army to restore order, and the Donbass War broke out.

The Ukrainian army, poorly trained and poorly equipped, went on the offensive in the first months of the conflict. But from August onwards, it is the pro-Russian militias in the East, supported by Russian soldiers without uniforms, who took the initiative and gained ground. It was not until February 2015, after more than nine months of war, that a ceasefire was signed during the Minsk II agreement. Since the signing of this agreement, which was theoretically supposed to lead to a negotiated diplomatic solution, the war in Donbass has become a low-intensity conflict, where the opposing forces exchanged artillery salvos or sniper fire, but where no real effort of territorial conquest took place, until now.

When I shot an episode of the travel series Avec ou sans cash in Kyiv, in the summer of 2018, the only visible sign of this war was the row of photos and flowers, commemorating the sacrifice of the soldiers who died fighting in the Donbass. The rest of the nation seemed to try to live more or less normal lives despite the conflict. All the while the Ukrainian army strengthened its positions in the east, trained its soldiers with the help of Western advisers (including several Canadian officers), and began its modernization. So much so that today it is a seasoned and well-organized army that faces the Russians.

What emerges from this sad chain of events is the extent to which a population that allows the venom of mistrust and hatred to creep into its ranks becomes vulnerable to all manner of manipulations by power-hungry parties that do not have the common good as a priority.

The concerns and feelings of the people of Donbass towards the Maidan revolution were quite natural and well-founded, but the inability of the Kyiv nationalists to reach out, to include these people in the discussions, to extend an olive branch to them, so to speak, opened the way for all the agents who work in the pay of the Kremlin.

What should we take back from all this?

In my opinion, two things, mainly:

• In a political conflict, if the parties become radicalized, a mechanism of escalation from mistrust to hatred and violence is almost inexorable. The radicals, left to their own devices, do not know how to appease, how to break the vicious circle of violence.

• The only cure for such a fever is the massive intervention of more moderate people, who must lead the way in de-escalation. Unfortunately, moderates are also often more passive, even fearful. But "waiting for it to pass"or "hoping that the authorities will be able to manage the situation", is insufficient. The majority, when it manifests itself, sets the markers of what is socially acceptable and what is socially desirable. It is therefore necessary that this visible and active majority be moderate, working towards reparation and recognition of injustices and the reconciliation of the sub-groups that make up the whole of society.

In short, all those who want to defend the common good and harmony in society must take action, make themselves visible, and invest their money in all those organizations and associations that fight for a better world and that are still fatally underfunded. Every one of us only needs to do what they can (but do something worthwhile), and the multiplier effect of our numbers will ensure that all these efforts will have an impact.

This sums up my core reflexions after two months of war in Europe. It has awaken me to the urgency of acting against hatred and for respect and reconciliation at all levels. It is therefore with this desire to contribute to a better future for the planet and for humanity that I will continue my work on Notre Cinéma Maison and the Zeitgeist project. I can no longer separate one from the other.


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